Redefining Oxford admissions: University scraps historic interview practice

6/15/20235 min read

A figure looks distractedly at a CV on a clipboard whilst an interview candidate appears on screen
A figure looks distractedly at a CV on a clipboard whilst an interview candidate appears on screen

In a controversial move, Oxford University's Admissions Committee has decided to keep undergraduate admissions interviews online for the next five years.

Covid-Era Policies Stick

Despite the university's long-standing tradition of in-person interviews, Oxford has opted to continue with the remote assessment model used during the pandemic. This is in stark contrast to their historic practice, which involved inviting applicants to the city for in-person interviews over several days. The original process gave individuals a chance to get to know other candidates, check out the city, and viscerally understand what it is like to live, work, and sleep under the college roofs. This highly involved interview process was a notable difference between Oxford and other British universities.

Although Oxford University has been criticized in recent years for failing to keep up with technological innovation, online interviews had strong support within its University body, with 24 of its colleges voting in favour and 7 against. Several colleges abstained. While Oxford colleges act independently on internal matters, they coordinate their undergraduate admissions policy collectively.

In a statement to the press, the University remarked that that the decision to continue online interviews was based on a thorough evaluation of both the merits of the traditional format and the experiences gained during Covid-era interviews. A spokesperson noted that the decision involved input from external stakeholders as well as actual members of the university. The details were not disclosed.

"Oxford will continue to aim to deliver a consistent and high-quality experience for this part of the collegiate University's application process," the University argued in their statement. However, to some, the decision is highly contentious—perhaps why it was limited to a five-year outlook rather than triggering a permanent change.

'It's the Equivalent of Kicking People Out': Quality and Equality Questions Loom Large

Online interviewing offers several advantages, notably cost-effectiveness, particularly for international students who would otherwise need to travel to the UK for the chance of admission. Regardless of whether the student covers the cost, or it is subsidized by the college, the money has to come from somewhere. Yet even when putting financial considerations aside, conducting interviews via platforms like Zoom provides logistical simplicity for both students and colleges, streamlining the application experience.

However, critics argue that remote work during lockdowns exposed the limitations and challenges of conducting important tasks remotely. The phrases "sorry, you're on mute" or "apologies, I disconnected" are all too well known to remote workers. From the interviewer's perspective, structuring spontaneous debate and detecting body language cues via webcam is also harder. Some of the resolution of expression which make for high quality interactions is lost, making for less precise judgements of candidate ability, and lower-quality discussions with applicants not used to remote work.

This is why, in the corporate world, despite the prevalence of video calling, companies still prefer face-to-face meetings for important matters. Meeting in person is still popular, even though the cost of flying workers out to international clients is exponentially higher. The Financial Times has recently reported that bosses are increasingly hostile toward remote work, with The Economist finding an even split between jobs that allow hybrid work and those which are totally in-person.

Yet the limitations of remote interviews might actually help improve admissions fairness. Despite its aim to be impartial, Oxford University’s Admissions Board has faced criticism for bias toward hyper-privileged students – including foreign royalty, future Prime Ministers, and boarding school toffs. But by delivering the content of the student's answers, and not their posh mannerisms, video interviews may cut down on the role that cultural familiarity plays in its professors gratuitously awarding offers to the top 1%.

Conversely, students at St Hilda's College argue that online interviews could exacerbate inequalities among applicants. Many 16 to 18-year-old candidates do not have their own computer, and so would use smartphones or borrowed equipment that could restrict concentration and develop technical issues. Smartphone notifications and the small screen size make it more likely that the candidate will be distracted. A borrowed device is more likely to overheat, malfunction, disconnect from the internet, or develop an issue mid-interview the candidate can’t fix. In fact, campaigners interviewed by The Cherwell, Oxford's student newspaper, claimed that moving interviews online was therefore equivalent to "kicking people out.” To address the issue, the University has promised to provide IT equipment to schools that lack it, but it remains to be seen whether their promise is substantive.

Online Interviews Incentivise Some Applicants, But Dissuade Others

In-person interviews, however, could make the experience of applicants more pleasant and assuage potential anxieties. Candidates invited to interview do everything that successfully admitted students do: eat the food, sleep in the college halls, prepare for academic debate, and spend time with the professors and tutors. Such first-hand exposure to the rarefied world of Oxbridge can instil confidence and a sense of belonging. Given the total cultural immersion that comes with studying at Oxford, it is important that the place a student might spend the three or four years of their life in speaks to them.

On the other hand, critics contest that the ability to get a sense of Oxford before you attend already exists—even outside of the open days and access events on offer, you can visit the city itself anytime you like. Oriel College picked up on this sentiment and promised to maximize the opportunities available to visit the college at other times in the year to make up for the change. However, even if it is financially possible for a candidate to visit the city outside of interviews, given the busy schedule of many promising applicants, there may not be enough time available before deadlines loom large.

While offering these opportunities is important, adopting online interviews may attract applicants who might have been intimidated by Oxford's renowned in-person interviews. Online interviews, though still intimidating, offer a practical advantage, as a 30-minute video call is less daunting than a multi-day trip to an unfamiliar city.

Applying to Oxford: Key Things to Consider

If you are considering applying to Oxford, it is crucial to consider the implications of the shift to online interviews. Would you prefer to be interviewed at school or from the comfort of your own home? How can you play to your strengths in an online interview? And, should the absence of in-person interviews change your application strategy in any way? These are all questions you should be actively thinking about, along with many others.

Although interviews are just one part of the Oxford admissions process, they hold significant weight in determining college offers. An Oxford interview can therefore be the stepping stone between a successful career and a mediocre one. The transition to online interviewing will affect thousands of applicants in the next five years, making it important to be fully prepared if invited. Specialised tutoring services, which provide inside knowledge about admissions practices, are well-placed to help candidates navigate this new and unprecedented interview process.

Conclusion: How Will Online Interviews Affect Oxford Applicants?

Online interviews will have major effects on the admissions process and the success of certain candidates. But as always, the best prepared candidates are likely to be the most successful. Our in-house analysis suggests that candidates will need to use techniques and styles of verbal communication that may be new to them in order to excel in the Oxford interviews. To arrive at this conclusion, we conducted extensive research on the topic to best serve our client needs and continue achieving a 100% admissions success rate.

Please see a selection of our sources below:

Yang et al., 2022: The Effects of Remote Work on Collaboration among Information Workers (

H Locke, 2020: The Psychological Impact of Video Calls (

Fauville et al., 2023: Video-Conferencing Usage Dynamics and Nonverbal Mechanisms Exacerbate Zoom Fatigue, Particularly for Women (

Morrison-Smith & Ruiz, 2020: Challenges and Barriers in Virtual Teams: a Literature Review (

BBC, 2021: The Digital Body Language Cues You Send – or Don’t Send (